Nearly everyone suffers from food poisoning at least once in their life—it’s practically unavoidable. The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans get food poisoning every year. Thankfully, most of these cases are mild and only a small percentage require medical care.
In severe cases, however, a lack of timely and appropriate treatment can lead to adverse outcomes. But how do you know when to seek urgent care with food poisoning? This guide will tell you the common symptoms and when to seek urgent care in Newport Beach for a potentially serious case of food poisoning.
What is Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning refers to a broad range of food-borne illnesses caused by the consumption of contaminated food or liquids. Food items contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or certain chemicals/toxins can cause food poisoning.
Food poisoning can affect all parts of your digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. When you eat contaminated food, the harmful organisms or substances cause illness or irritation in your stomach.
Common Symptoms of Food Poisoning
Food poisoning is an acute health condition; in other words, it can start suddenly, often within hours or minutes of consuming a contaminated food item or drink. The most common and relatively mild symptoms of food poisoning include:
- An upset stomach followed by loose bowel movements (diarrhea)
- Abdominal cramps
- Low fever
- Bloating in the stomach
How Can I Tell if It’s Food Poisoning?
The symptoms of food poisoning often overlap with other issues that affect the digestive system:
- Stomach flu often has the same symptoms as food poisoning.
- If you consume a lot of alcohol, the effects can mimic the symptoms of food poisoning.
- Some medications can also cause side effects that include nausea, cramps, and loose bowel movements.
With that said, in many cases you may be able to connect your symptoms to a recent meal or drink. Some food categories are at a high risk of contamination from harmful germs. If your most recent meal included any of the following items, there is a good chance that you have food poisoning and require urgent care:
- Raw or under-cooked meat
- Raw fruits and vegetables
- Raw milk, soft cheese, and other dairy products
- Seafood, especially raw shellfish
- Raw flour, sprouts, etc.
We’ll take a closer look at these high-risk foods in a later section below. But first, let’s take a closer look at the food poisoning symptoms that warrant a visit to your nearest urgent care clinic.
Seek Newport Center Urgent Care if You Have One of These Food Poisoning Symptoms
In most cases, healthy adults or teenagers can manage mild food poisoning symptoms at home. But in some circumstances, the disease may be severe enough to seek medical treatment. If you have any of the following symptoms, the situation is serious and you should consult a doctor at an urgent care clinic:
If you have frequent watery stools and you start noticing blood in the toilet bowl or on toilet paper, it is a sign of extreme concern. The blood is usually mixed with the watery stool and may be either bright or dark red, depending on the part of the digestive tract where the actual bleeding is occurring.
When food poisoning is caused by bacteria like E. Coli, it leads to infection of the stomach. In severe cases, sores can form inside your intestinal walls. When these sores break, they cause bleeding in the gut, which comes out along with the rest of the watery stools as bloody diarrhea.
Typically, bloody stools will start appearing in a case of E. Coli poisoning after 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Watery stools will start a few hours after the infection and these become bloody by the second day. In some severe cases, you may see blood and water coming without any stool. Seek urgent care immediately if you experience this symptom.
In milder cases of food poisoning, loose bowel movements should end within 24–48 hours. However, if you get persistent diarrhea for three days straight without any respite, this is also a cause for concern. Even if there is no blood in your stools, you should seek help at a Newport Beach urgent care facility.
Technically, loose or watery stool that occurs more than three times per day is considered diarrhea. The following situations require a visit to an urgent care clinic:
- More than six instances of loose stools within 24 hours
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than 3 days
There are several ways in which illnesses can cause diarrhea. In food poisoning, the bacterial infection causes inflammation of the intestinal walls. It prevents the intestine from absorbing the usual amount of water, leading to inflammatory/infectious diarrhea.
A body temperature over 102° F is considered a high fever that should be checked out by a doctor. Mild fever, between 100.4–101.9° F is a sign of an infection in the body. When food poisoning is caused by a bacteria or virus, you will often see mild fevers for a day or two.
Higher intensity fevers indicate that the body is battling a major infection. While this is not a major threat on its own, a high fever combined with constant diarrhea and dehydration can lead to severe complications in the body.
If you start having a fever and tremors in a suspected case of food poisoning, check your temperature orally using a thermometer. If the readings are around 102° F or higher, visit your nearest UrgentMED urgent care facility in Newport Beach, CA without delay.
Vomiting and nausea are common symptoms of food poisoning, but are also a common side effect of high alcohol consumption. If you keep having constant bouts of vomiting, especially after eating or drinking anything, it may be time to pay a visit to an urgent care clinic.
Consult a doctor if you are having trouble keeping down even simple foods and drinks like soup, water, and juices. Vomiting in food poisoning is triggered as a defensive mechanism by the nerves in the stomach. They send electronic signals to the brain when they detect toxins/inflammation.
While this is a protective mechanism designed to quickly remove harmful substances from the stomach, constant vomiting can cause dangerous complications, including bleeding in the esophagus and dehydration. This is a medical emergency and you should visit an urgent care clinic as soon as possible.
A combination of constant diarrhea, vomiting, and fever can lead to a sudden and catastrophic loss of fluids in the body. If left unaddressed, this can have dangerous side effects that may even lead to coma, strokes or death. Seeking help at an urgent care clinic can help you stay safe.
Dehydration is one of the most common complications of food poisoning. If you have potentially serious dehydration, you may experience:
- Decreased frequency of urination
- Dark-yellow colored urine
- Dry mouth and throat
- Extreme thirst
- Fatigue and dizziness, especially when standing up
- Sunken eyes
- Pinched skin does not flatten back quickly when released, a situation medically called decreased skin turgor
If you start experiencing any of these symptoms alongside nausea, loose motion, vomiting and stomach cramps, you have a serious case of food poisoning that should be addressed by medical professionals at an UrgentMED facility near you.
Nervous System Symptoms
In less common cases, toxins created by bacteria or shellfish can also affect your nervous system. These are potentially more dangerous than the impact of food poisoning on your stomach or intestines.
Toxins like botulism, secreted by a bacteria called Clostridium Botulinum, can even kill you through respiratory failure if prompt medical treatment is not received. You should seek medical care at an urgent care facility as soon as possible if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Muscle Paralysis
- Tingling or numbness in the skin
These symptoms can start anywhere from 6–12 hours after ingesting the contaminated food. Although quite rare, botulism can occur in improperly tinned or preserved food items like canned fish or meat, or fresh vegetables preserved in low-acid pickling solutions.
If you experience any of these nervous symptoms after eating a high-risk food, visit an UrgentMED center for urgent care as soon as possible.
Who Should Seek Help at the First Signs of Food Poisoning?
If you are generally young and healthy with no major health issues, a minor bout of food poisoning should not be a cause for worry.
However, some individuals are considered to be at a higher risk of severe complications from eating contaminated food. These individuals are more likely to get a severe reaction to food poisoning, usually due to a weakened or compromised immune system, or other health conditions. They may require an urgent care visit even in mild to moderate cases.
Our immune systems fully mature only just 5 years of age. If a young child or infant under 5 is showing early signs of food poisoning, do not take any chances. Bacteria and toxins can wreak havoc and cause long-term damage to a child if left unaddressed.
If you have a child or infant suffering from suspected food poisoning, consider it a medical emergency and visit your nearest urgent care center.
A fully mature immune system will rapidly decline at 65 years of age. Senior citizens must be extra careful of potential complications arising from food poisoning. Their bodies are less likely to withstand dehydration and inflammation.
If you are a senior citizen, or you have a loved one who is a senior with signs of food poisoning, visit your nearest urgent care center to get help from medical professionals.
Pregnancy takes a heavy toll on a woman’s body. Her immune system may not have the resources to effectively fight off a bacterial infection. For the safety of both the mother and child, always consult an UrgentMED facility if a pregnant woman develops severe diarrhea, cramps, etc.
People with Specific Health Issues
Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy have drastically weakened immune systems. The same is also true in the case of autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
If you have any of these conditions, you should treat any suspected case of food poisoning with utmost caution. Walk-ins are welcome at all UrgentMED urgent care centers, and give you access prompt medical care from licensed physicians.
Consequences of Not Getting Treatment for Food Poisoning
As already noted, healthy adults with milder symptoms generally don’t need to worry about food poisoning that lasts for a day or two. But if your symptoms are severe, or they extend beyond three days, the infection can be dangerous—or even lethal in some cases.
Those who are generally considered low-risk, but have a severe bout of untreated food poisoning, may experience a variety of different outcomes. There are three main risk factors: complications from severe dehydration, after-effects of infection, and the immune system response. It’s best not to take things too lightly. Visit the UrgentMED clinic in Newport Beach for prompt medical care.
Complications of Dehydration
Unchecked dehydration can cause damage to your kidneys. Not only do you lose water, but you also lose vital minerals—sodium, calcium, and potassium—in the form of dissolved electrolytes. This causes electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to stroke, paralysis, seizures, and even death due to cardiac arrest.
Whenever your body is attacked by a bacteria or virus, your immune system goes into overdrive to kill the germs. Sometimes, the immune system response can mistake healthy cells for invaders, leading to several conditions that are called autoimmune disorders.
Autoimmune responses in cases of food poisoning may lead to long-term side effects in a minority of patients. Reactive arthritis, Guillain Barre syndrome, and chronic kidney failure are the main conditions noted in severe food poisoning cases.
Dangers for High-Risk Categories
Infants suffering from severe diarrhea can face life-threatening situations within a matter of two days. In pregnant women, dehydration and immune responses can affect the health of both the mother and the fetus.
Seniors and people with compromised immune systems may have a harder time stopping the spread of infection to other parts of the body. The physical effects of fever, vomiting, and diarrhea are also more likely to lead to adverse outcomes faster in such individuals.
Common Food Contaminants, Symptoms, and High-Risk Foods
Many different types of germs can cause food poisoning in humans. Some can make you sick in a few hours while others may take more than a day. Here is a quick look at some of the most common food contaminating organisms, with their associated symptoms and the most common foods they infect.
The germs below have been arranged based on the speed of action. The higher-ranked organisms are the ones that cause symptoms to appear sooner after your meal.
Staphylococcus aureus (30 minutes)
This is a very common type of bacteria that is often found on the skin, near the nose, armpits, and groin. While this bacteria is not always dangerous, in certain circumstances (such as low immunity) it can cause severe disease.
Staph infections can start causing symptoms—including nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps—within 30 minutes of consuming contaminated food. Some of the most common sources are sliced deli meats, sandwiches, and other foods that are not cooked after people touch them with bare hands.
Vibrio parehaemolyticus (2 hours)
A bacteria found in the sea, Vibrio is a leading cause of acute stomach infections in humans. This bacterium is very commonly found in shellfish and other forms of aquatic and marine lifeforms.
Common symptoms include acute diarrhea, severe cramps, vomiting, fever and chills. This can can start within two hours of the germ entering your stomach. Raw oysters are the most common culprit for this type of food poisoning, along with other raw or undercooked shellfish.
Clostridium perfringens (6 hours)
This bacteria is found everywhere—on the ground, in plants, underwater, and in the guts of many animals and bugs. Due to its omnipresence, C. perfringens is also one of the most common causes of food poisoning, with over 1 million cases each year.
Diarrhea and cramps are common symptoms that appear roughly six hours after your meal. Beef and chicken are the most common sources, particularly in the form of large roasts, or dried/pre-cooked items.
Salmonella (6 hours)
Most people are familiar with Salmonella because it causes the greatest number of food poisoning cases in the US. The CDC estimates that over 1.35 million cases and 420 deaths occur each year as a result of salmonella poisoning.
Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps, and may take anywhere from six hours to six days to start occurring. Improperly cooked chicken is the primary source of salmonella, followed by turkey, eggs, raw milk, and raw vegetables and fruits.
Norovirus (12 hours)
A highly contagious virus, Norovirus is one of the few germs that can infect other people after making you sick. In addition to food, it can also spread through direct contact with infected persons or by touching contaminated surfaces without washing hands.
Excessive vomiting is a major symptom of norovirus infections, along with stomach pain and diarrhea. Fresh leafy vegetables, fruits, and oysters are all high-risk food sources for norovirus infections.
Clostridium botulinum (18 hours)
This bacteria can create a highly toxic substance called botulinum, one of the most dangerous known chemicals in existence. This toxin directly affects your central nervous system.
Symptoms can take 18–36 hours to appear, and include blurred vision, slurred speech and drooping eyes, followed by difficulty in swallowing and breathing. Home-made fermented foods and improperly canned items are the most common source of botulinum poisoning.
Escherichia Coli (3 days)
Most strains of this bacteria are harmless and can be found in the guts of many animals and humans. However, some strains can cause food poisoning, urinary tract infections, and other diseases in the stomach with dangerous, long-term side effects.
E. Coli symptoms include bloody diarrhea, cramps and vomiting. These usually appear 3–4 days after exposure to contaminated foods, which can include raw or improperly cooked beef, raw milk, and raw vegetables like lettuce and sprouts.
Treatment for Severe Food Poisoning
Doctors usually diagnose food poisoning on the basis of symptoms, and other information provided by patients regarding their recent meals. In severe cases, further blood and stool tests are often required to identify the germ causing the disease.
In mild cases of food poisoning, treatment mainly involves taking rest and drinking fluids to prevent dehydration. Some over-the-counter medications can help reduce the intensity of diarrhea or stomach cramps, but they should never be given to children or infants.
At an UrgentMED urgent care facility in Newport Beach, you can expect a doctor to provide you with any of the following treatment options:
- Antibiotics to treat the infection
- Probiotic medicine to improve digestive tract health
- Electrolytes and hydration formulas to replace fluid loss
In cases with acute dehydration or severe internal inflammation, you may be referred to a hospital for round-the-clock care, including IV fluids and other advanced treatments.
Get Fast Access to Food Poisoning Treatment at UrgentMED
Symptoms of food poisoning can be debilitating and hard to manage. When you suffer from constant vomiting or heavy diarrhea, you don’t want to wait for hours at an emergency room for help. At UrgentMED walk-in clinics, you get quick access to treatment without the long wait.
We also provide much more, including diagnostic lab services, in-house prescription and non-prescription medications, and medical supplies. We also accept most major insurance plans. There’s no need to book an appointment in advance. Just walk in to any of our UrgentMED clinics across Southern California today for timely and effective urgent care.